Cast & Crew
Mrs. Fay Cheyney, an adventuress, poses as a wealthy Australian widow at a Monte Carlo hotel to fleece wealthy Mrs. Webley of a valuable pearl necklace. With her are Charles, the mastermind, and several other men who pretend to be her servants. Wavering between stealing the necklace and not, because she has fallen in love with Lord Arthur Dilling, Mrs. Webley's nephew, and has been accepted into "society," Mrs. Cheyney finally decides to take it during a houseparty at the Webleys'. Dilling discovers her with it and threatens to expose her unless she yields to his desires. Rather than yield to Dilling, Mrs. Cheyney, a principled woman, summons the guests to her room and confesses, leaving them to decide her fate. They plan to call in the police until Lord Elton, also in love with Mrs. Cheyney, recalls that she possesses a love letter he wrote her which could embarrass them all. The group decides to buy her off, but when she destroys both the letter and the check, they welcome her, as Lady Dilling, back into their society.
Maude Turner Gordon
George K. Arthur
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) - The Last of Mrs. Cheyney
The Mrs. Cheyney of the title is played by Norma Shearer, an actress who was confidently making the transition from silents to talkies: She'd signed with Louis B. Mayer Pictures in 1923, and by the time MGM had been formed, in 1924, she was well on her way to making a name for herself, with memorable roles in pictures like He Who Gets Slapped (1924). Shearer didn't have the easiest road to stardom: Her eyes were slightly crossed, a condition that she took great pains (and spent a great deal of money) to correct and disguise. But by the late '20s and early '30s, she became known for playing self-confident, motivated modern women, precisely the type of character she portrays in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. And though it certainly didn't hurt that Shearer had become the wife of MGM production head Irving Thalberg in 1927, as an actress Shearer was, by many accounts, smart, dedicated and easy to work with. As her Mrs. Cheyney co-star and close friend Basil Rathbone, who would appear with her again, seven years later, in Romeo and Juliet (1936), put it: "I got tired of hearing that she was Galatea to Irving's Pygmalion; she was a very strong character on her own, very much of a self-starter, with true self-sufficiency...And I was not at all surprised when some of her finest performances came in the years after her husband's death, when she was very much on her own." (Thalberg died in 1936.)
In The Last of Mrs. Cheyney Shearer plays the key member of a group of jewel thieves, a woman who poses as a moneyed Australian widow in order to earn the confidence of a group of rich aristocrats. She and her gang -- most notably, her accomplice Charles (George Barraud), who poses as her butler -- have landed in Monte Carlo, where Mrs. Cheyney has charmed her way into the good graces of some very well-heeled folk. She plans to steal a lavish rope of pearls, valued at twenty thousand pounds, belonging to the elderly Mrs. Webley (Maude Turner Gordon). The complication in her little plan is the presence of the dashing womanizer Lord Arthur Dilling (Rathbone), who boldly tries to talk his way into her bed. She resists, coquettishly, playing him against another suitor, the bumbling -- but extremely rich -- Lord Elton (Herbert Bunston). But secretly, or not-so-secretly, she's attracted to him, and he causes her to second-guess her chosen vocation.
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney was adapted, almost word for word, from the successful stage play by Frederick Lonsdale. And though there are moments where the action seems a little stiff and stagey, the director, Sidney Franklin, keeps the action moving smoothly enough, considering he was working in a medium where the technique was still a work in progress (and which required actors to deliver their lines into carefully hidden stationary microphones). This was only Shearer's second talkie --the first had been The Trial of Mary Dugan, made earlier that year. It was also a first for MGM: The Last of Mrs. Cheyney was the first feature with a soundtrack -- for previous talkies, the sound had been recorded on accompanying discs.
The picture was well-received at the time of its release, thanks in part to Shearer's elegance, charm and charisma. Particularly notable is the Variety review, which calls the movie "bum literature but great theater." The reviewer also suggests, in Variety-style shorthand, that movies like The Last of Mrs. Cheyney could give motion pictures the ultimate edge over the theater: "Significant angle is that its whole method is more of the stage than of the screen. No visible action, whole development depending upon the spoken word. Tension and suspense lie in the tricky lines rather than in situation expressed in movement." In other words, the characters in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney don't move around a lot, but they sure can talk, and their on-screen appeal is formidable.
Mordaunt Hall's review for the New York Times suggests that early talking pictures often demanded some forbearance on the part of both audiences and projectionists. Of his own viewing experience, he writes that "from time to time it was evident that the projection operator was trying to obtain lower tones that were not muffled." He also praised Rathbone's performance, particularly given the shakiness of the then-new technology: "Mr. Rathbone is capital, making allowances, of course, for the temperamental reproducing device."
Temperamental, maybe, but the wobbliness of early movie sound doesn't diminish the appeal of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. Its formula must have been effective: The movie would be remade twice, first in 1937, starring Joan Crawford, William Powell and Robert Montgomery, and again in 1951 as The Law and the Lady with Greer Garson, Michael Wilding and Fernando Lamas. But those versions most certainly lack the deco-age glamour of Shearer and Rathbone as they face off in his-and-hers nightwear. Shearer's Fay Cheyney scrutinizes Rathbone's Arthur Dilling in his silky, obviously expensive dressing gown and finds the spectacle wanting. Rathbone volleys back, "Oh, and I chose the one that suits me best. How depressing! It must be me." Sometimes the sound of music is indistinguishable from the sound of dialogue.
Producer: Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Director: Sidney Franklin
Screenplay: Hans Kraly, Claudine West (continuity); Frederick Lonsdale (play)
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Film Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Cast: Norma Shearer (Fay Cheyney), Basil Rathbone (Lord Arthur Dilling), George Barraud (Charles), Herbert Bunston (Lord Elton), Hedda Hopper (Lady Maria), Moon Carroll (Joan), Madeline Seymour (Mrs. Mattie Wynton), Cyril Chadwick (Willie Wynton), George K. Arthur (George), Frank Finch Smiles (William 'Bill' O'Dare (as Finch Smiles)).
by Stephanie Zacharek
Lawrence J. Quirk, Norma: The Story of Norma Shearer, St. Martin's Press
Basil Rathbone, In and Out of Character, Limelight Editions
Michael B. Druxman, Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films, Gazelle Book Services
The New York Times
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) - The Last of Mrs. Cheyney
By marrying I can make only one woman miserable. By remaining single I can make so many happy.- Lord Arthur Dilling